Sh9bn coronavirus funds remain unused in counties

More than Sh9 billion wired to the 47 counties to fight the coronavirus disease are lying idle due to the lack of budget plans amid shortage of isolation centres and beds to handle the rising cases of the pandemic.

Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o said the counties are yet to release budget plans on Covid-19 cash, prompting the Treasury to withhold the billions despite the unpreparedness in the devolved units to handle the rising number of coronavirus patients.

Ms Nyakang’o added that the counties did not budget for the funds after the Ministry of Health failed to outline their role in the Covid-19 fight when the country recorded the first infection on March 12.

Treasury wired Sh13.1 billion to counties main account at the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), but governors had spent Sh3.43 billion as at end of last month, shows a report by Controller of Budget on the utilisation of funds to fight the pandemic.

The devolved units are grappling with the lack of enough isolation beds, low number of ventilators for critically ill Covid-19 patients and an over-stretched healthcare workforce as fears mount that the country’s health system may be overrun by infections.

“The timing of the funds release was too close to the end of the 2019/20 financial year and some county governments did not prepare budgets for the utilisation of the covid-19 grants from the national government,” Ms Nyakang’o said in the report tabled before Parliament on Thursday.

“Consequently several county governments could not withdraw these funds which remained un-utilized as of July 31, 2020.”

The funds consist of Sh5 billion from National Treasury, Sh2.36 billion as allowances for frontline workers, Sh350 million from Denmark’s Development Cooperation (Danida) to upgrade Level Two and Three hospitals and Sh5.39 billion from the counties’ own-source revenues.

Kenya on Thursday recorded 373 new Covid-19 cases bringing the number to 33,389 while fatalities rose to 567 after three people died.

This is the first audit of funds set aside to fight Covid-19 from March 13 to July 31 with Ms Nyakang’o further calling on the counties to provide expenditure plans in their budgets for the year to next June.

Nairobi, Mombasa, Embu, Kirinyaga, Bomet, Lamu, Mandera and Marsabit did not table their expenditure reports on the pandemic amid concerns that billions of shillings have been misused across the two levels of governments.